Canadian Plastics

Doing More With The Same

"Same equipment, new applications!"

January 1, 2009   Canadian Plastics



“Same equipment, new applications!”

“Retrofitting to serve you better!”

What’s that? Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just trying out business slogans for North America’s plastics processors.

I should probably explain.

Over the years, we’ve all no doubt encountered that cliched phrase “doing more with less,” in countless TV commercials, magazines, and every other advertising medium.

Well, I was meeting with some equipment suppliers the other day, talking about the likely direction of North America’s plastics industry in the years to come, and what they told me echoed what I’ve been hearing from other suppliers lately, as well as from a wide variety of processors: what most of the industry is aiming for in the short term isn’t doing more with less, but doing more with the same.

What I mean is, unless they’re actually going out of business, plastics processors aren’t in danger of losing either their equipment or their resin supply, and thus having to — all together now — “do more with less.”

At the same time, however, buying new machinery is something many shops want to avoid if possible — especially with a glut of relatively cheap pre-owned equipment from bankrupt companies available on the auction blocks. (The results of our most recent injection molders’ benchmark survey, beginning on pg. 11, seem to confirm this. For example, only 24.2 per cent of respondents say they intend to purchase new I/M machines in 2009.)

Instead, most processors are looking to use the equipment and technology they have in their plants right now to gain access to new manufacturing opportunities in new markets.

How exactly does a manufacturer do more with the same? It may be as simple as making the right contacts within growth industries. For example, the Canadian Association of Moldmakers trade show in Windsor, Ont. last November featured a seminar designed to teach moldmakers, as well as plastics processors, how to drum up contracts in the aerospace industry, which is looking to incorporate lighter components into such crafts as airplanes and helicopters. As the guest speakers noted, the same machinery and procedures used to make auto parts are well-suited for manufacturing most aerospace components.

Another growth opportunity lies in molding medical parts for the legions of aging Baby Boomers entering their sunset years — in particular the microparts (components weighing one gram or less) used in invasive surgery. Entry into this market requires new molds and production protocols, and perhaps the installation of a cleanroom, but can usually be done without having to invest in new injection molding equipment.

This isn’t to say that new plastics processing machines shouldn’t be built, or that they’re not useful, or that no one’s ever going to buy them. New technology will always be key in advancing the plastics industry. It’s to acknowledge the simple fact that — with the economy in trouble, competition on the rise, and traditionally profitable sectors like the auto industry in decline — the realistic approach to remaining competitive for many of today’s processors is to find new ways of doing more with their existing equipment, or at most, retrofitting and upgrading that equipment to do more. (The corollary to this is that, for the time being at least, OEMs might be wise to see their role as one of helping processors to upgrade their current equipment, rather than recommending the newest machine model as the answer to every production challenge.)

Doing more with the same. The advertising gurus on Madison Ave. might not like the phrase, but it may prove a motto for success for a good many in our industry.

Mark Stephen, managing editor mstephen@canplastics.com


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